07 March 2017

IGDA Localization SIG Roundtable 2017: how was it?

The anticipation at Roundtable 2017

“Two thoughts on this: The table is not even remotely round AND people look anything but happy. Next time you take a photo, you might want to say "Free snacks for everybody!" first.”

Not all valid points need to be correct. By focusing strictly on form over content, I feel that this comment from our Facebook group perfectly encapsulates what we did right. Let's see together why.

What was the Round table 2017

Each February, the city of San Francisco welcomes thousands of game makers from all over the world for the Game Developers Conference, the largest and most successful event dedicated to the art and craft of making video games.

All aspects of game making are represented, from graphics to design, from writing to artificial intelligence. With the direct support of IGDA and UBM, the localization group had its space too:

IGDA Localization SIG Roundtable / Speaker: Simone Crosignani | Vice-Chair, IGDA Localization SIG / Location: Room 111, North Hall / Date: Thursday, March 2 - Time: 10:00am - 11:00am

The IGDA Localization Special Interest Group (SIG) Round table is a gathering event for all people involved in game localization, from developers to publishers, translators and linguists. The main goal of the Localization SIG is to provide a focal point and nexus for the growing number of game localization professionals in order to build community, draw together best practices and processes. Join this round table to discuss highlights and accomplishments of the group as well as plans for 2017 and beyond!

The challenge

From 2010 to 2014, GDC has hosted the Localization Summit, a whole day dedicated to the topic. You can see a summary of its last edition here.

Despite the good attendance and reviews, the localization group was unable to secure the necessary spaces for the coming years and localization content split in two directions: individual localization-themed sessions on one side (four in 2017) and a smaller, one-hour round table on the other (similarly to other advocacy groups like the Game Writing SIG or Community Management SIG).

The latter has had a fragile life since. In 2014 it had 33 participants, with good internal feedback ("Good roundtable, great to spend time discussing the conference with peers." "Loc sig is chugging along. Looking forward to seeing more great events in 2014 and beyond.") but some harsh online comments too.

In 2015 there was no roundtable at all. We all live outside the USA and when the few of us who work for larger companies were told there would be no GDC travel, we had no choice but to cancel the event.

How we faced it

Simon is the co-chair of the group and the most experienced of us, being involved with the group pretty much since its creation. Seb is a game localization veteran at Square-Enix who really wanted to bring back localization into the GDC spotlight.

2017 is a special year for the Localization SIG: it's the 10th anniversary of its creation and it's also election year, with the whole steering committee being replaced by July.

So Simone and Seb hatched a plan: instead of focusing on the past achievements of the group, we could involve the participants in a discussion about the future. The format would be borrowed from a similar QA round table, with multiple macro-topics and a strict time limit (8 minutes) for each, so that everyone can get involved in a discussion they care about, but we also keep things moving and interesting for everyone.

And I'm saying "we" because, after they arranged the event, I decided to attend the GDC for the first time and joined the fun as a master of ceremony of sorts: opening speech, introductions, closing speech. A bit like Mickey Mouse in modern TV programs, if you want.

The round table

When we started, we had five macro-topics and a series of questions for each, collected through a survey on our Facebook group

This base was especially useful at the beginning. When everyone was a bit shy, it would be Seb, Simon and me bringing up one of these "canned" questions and comment upon them in order to move the conversation forward.

From this base, the conversation substantially took a life of its own and pretty much all the participants raised their hands to bring up new and interesting points.

Topic summary

List of topics

The Localization Process

This topic was dominated by one main question: "How can a developer measure the quality of a localization without being able to understand the language?" The answers varied from analyzing game magazine reviews to running surveys among the audience to involving the most active members of the community in the localization process itself

Audio

One main challenge was raised: how can localization match the standards set by the original audio while working with a much more compressed deadline? Dubs shine through their casting and shorter deadlines mean sticking to the actors that are willing to endure -for example- long days of shouting into the microphone, one war game after the other, before different projects may arise. In return, this means that some voices become frequent to the point of tiring the public. It's not easy to find more variety, since not all actors care or even understand video games at all, but this is getting easier with the arrival of a new generation that played in their youth.

Translation Technology

We mostly explored two angles. The first one was the LAMS platform showcased by Sony during their Steps for Effective Localization and Tools for Effective Localization sessions, highlighting its main goals of providing contextual information (down to streamed video for each string!) and easing transparency of communication across all languages. The second was debating the benefits and drawbacks associated with CAT tools, that allow to maintain the level of productivity and consistency needed by most game projects but also tend to stifle creativity a bit -especially when dealing with marketing-.

Translators’ Working Conditions

We somehow managed to keep this positive, despite having to agree that most game clients push to keep rates as low as possible, to the point of damaging the final product. Paradoxically, there's actually a shortage of good, creative translators but the demand for quality isn't just there (yet).

Emerging Markets

A quick discussion how once minor languages like Turkish are getting more and more attention, bringing in more challenges but also making the whole localization framework more robust.

Conclusions

First of all, my main regret. As you can see from the board picture above, one topic was raised but not discussed and it's gender.

I take full responsibility for that. As I mentioned above, we were experimenting with this format for the very first time and we needed topics we could dominate so well that we could find and share new and interesting angles pretty much on the spot.

We didn't have that knowledge in this case and, since we didn't really want to improvise on such an important theme, we chose to postpone it. I already have a few leads for an interview about it and hopefully we should have a deeper knowledge and experience to make the topic justice next year.

And to wrap this up, what I am most proud of is the energy we had in the room during that hour.

Good conversation despite being the very first event of the morning, great mix between translators, developers, publishers and loc companies -all pitching in to share their views- and excellent sense of community, without a hint of self-promotion or rivalry in sight.

To come back to that cheeky comment at the top, we didn't hang around looking pretty, we stormed the room finding ideas, sharing them, discussing and bonding as a community in the process.

I've never been more proud of a bad picture, because pictures never look good if you are really moving.

*Thanks again to IGDA and UBM for hosting us, and to Simon, Seb and everyone who attended. For any comment, feel free to reach me through the icons below. You can find a quick summary of the other localization-themed talks here

(cover credits)